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The Real Story Of How Macklemore Got 'Thrift Shop' To No. 1

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The No. 1 song in the country right now is "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, a rap group out of Seattle. Their claim to fame: They got the song to the top of the chart by themselves, without being signed by a major label.

They've bragged about this success in a video spoof and on Twitter.

But the story they've been telling — the story that's been widely reported — is not entirely true.

The truth is that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis hired a company to help them get their music into stores. That company, Alternative Distribution Alliance, is an arm of Warner Music Group, one of the most major of the major labels.

Still, the rise of "Thrift Shop" is something new. It's an indication of a power shift away from the major labels to the artist themselves. Clearly, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis accomplished a lot on their own.

The rap group spent their early years hustling and playing small clubs like a lot of acts. But they also used technology to build a devoted following on Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube.

They eventually got to the point where their touring was so successful that they could have been signed by a major label.

Instead, they went a different route. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis took the money they'd made from touring and made their own album — a process that digital technology has made much cheaper.

To get their album to the top of the charts though, they needed help.

"You really cannot get a radio hit at this point without major label backing," says Gary Trust from Billboard.

Even in today's world of iTunes and YouTube, you still need the radio to become a superstar, Trust says. So Macklemore and Ryan Lewis hired Warner Music Group to get the band more radio play. That helped propel "Thrift Shop" to No. 1.

Yes, artists can do a lot on their own today. But to get to the top of the charts, they still have to work with a major label.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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